It’s finally getting genuinely cold, here. Today is clear and bright with a crisp breeze. It’s just the kind of autumn day I like the best. It makes me want to take a journey (not a trip…a serious Journey) or contrarywise to do picturesque fall things like baking or trekking through the woods in big boots and a chunky sweater or reading in a big chair under a hand-knitted blanket with hot tea at my elbow.

Of course, I work at a university, so autumn is usually the time of year I am least able to do things like that. Fortunately for me, actual fall weather held off till the second week of November, here. I can do all the picturesque things I want in the deep dark of evenings when the sun sets an hour and a half before I get off work.

It’s a season for comfort in food, in living space and in mind. We sit in the brief pause between the Halloween feasting season and the endless festive crawl that is the Thanksgiving into Hanukka into Christmas (and in particular all the relentless commercialized frivolity the latter exposes us all too, which are awful even if Christmas is a holiday you celebrate and can be a freaking apocalyptic nightmare if you don’t).

Just anticipating the mix of good and bad of stress and fun together that the Festive Season represents can make me feel as small and irrational as Gir in Invader Zim. Who eats his cupcake and then cries about it being gone.

Gir crying and saying 'Awww...I miss you, cupcake.'

We can all take this pause before we’re exposed to endless parties with uncomfortable co-worker chitchat and tense family meals where you’re just bracing yourself for some relative to say something microaggressive (or, indeed, just aggressive) about something near and dear to your heart, to feed our souls before the storm hits.

I feed mine with comfort foods and with comfort fictions. After the spook-fest of Halloween, I often like some serious rose-colored glasses viewing and reading material. It’s the time of year I’m most likely to re-read the Oz books, for example. Or to watch some of my favorite classic movie musicals like Hello, Dolly or Singin’ In the Rain.

Sometimes I also like to re-watch favorites from when I was a kid like The Muppet Movie or Pollyanna or the Winnie the Pooh Disney movie.

I also like shows with unreasonable amount of idealism (Vicar of Dibley) or an unreasonable amount of fantasy wish fulfillment (Leverage).

The real trick is to find something that I’ve never seen before that feeds the gaping maw of my small, irrational feelings to stave off the weltschmerz that winter can bring.

In the same way that it can be difficult, in adulthood, to find something that *blows your mind* and excites and captivates you as much as the things you loved in your youth, it can also be difficult to find anything that makes you feel as safe and as positive.

This is the time of year I go out on limbs for high-quality schmaltz. I like to find small, happy stories that make the best of the world shine a little brighter. I think this is the impulse at the back of the scores and scores of truly awful Christmas films and specials that infest everywhere in December. But I am looking for something more emotionally resonant than those — something that can truly soothe the savage anxiety brain-weasels and make the dark seem cozy instead of opressive.

It’s rare enough that I am not sure I can name the last time I saw a film that struck me this way, though a few things I’ve seen this year vibrate on the same frequency.

Table 19 is a comedic drama that has realistic and bitter moments, but has an overall warm and human feel that makes it well worth the ride. It’s difficult to describe without giving away the twists and turns but suffice it to say: the trailer is not remotely using the full emotional palette.

The Big Sick is on the very short list of romantic comedies that I adore. Perhaps because it’s a story straight out of real life. Perhaps because the comedy is tempered with plenty of heavy things. Probably, though, it’s just because it doesn’t follow any of the stupid compulsory-heterosexuality tracks that romcoms often do.

Logan Lucky is a story about people being much more clever and devious and ingenious and persistent than other people believe possible. And then developing a nefarious plan that is applied for good. It felt almost like a lost Leverage episode to me, in some ways.

Hidden Figures is another inspired-by-life movie about awesome women kicking ass against a system that is one hundred percent designed to hold them back. It also has bonus space nerdery. (Space nerdery is always a point in something’s favor for me.)

Gifted is a movie about family being difficult and human and also being super important.

I’m sure I’ll encounter more movies that are almost right before next fall. And if I am very lucky, maybe I’ll find a film that will be worthy of watching in a double bill with The Music Man….while sitting under a hand-knitted blanket with hot tea at my elbow.

In the meantime, I wish you mashed potatoes and gravy.

My roommate (who we shall call A) and I have this concept we call the One Day Internet Expert (Or odie for short, obviously).

We’ve all probably been this. You spend a few hours getting sucked down into a wikipedia spiral or flipping through educational sites and now you know the 20 most important basics (plus random facts) about the history of helicopters or about the methods of tanning leather used in medeival Germany or the genus Hydrochaeris.

It can be fun and fascinating to get dragged into such a knowledge alley and get a tiny glimpse of how interconnected all the pathways are. And then you get to impress your friends with random trivia.

Knowledge is power, but more importantly, knowledge is fun. Knowledge is entertainment. Knowledge is hearty food for your brain to masticate and feel satisfied.

It’s funny to me that people would ever consider that a waste of time, though I understand there’s this urge to be *doing* and in general our culture contrasts learning and doing as two completely different things. It’s like the manmade/nature split or the mind/body split. There’s really no chasm between these two things. Humans are part of nature. The brain is made of flesh. And self-distraction and self-directed learning are both activities that are important to fulfillment and health.

Sometimes I can’t act on these beliefs, myself. When the brain weasels attack, I wind up feeling pretentious for seeking meaning in pop-culture and the pursuit of same. But on my better days I can recognize the utility in it, as well as the entertainment. The brain thrives on making connections and teasing out meanings. It’s a muscle that gets stronger with use.

I used to come up with these mini film-festivals to put on for friends of mine. I’d pick 3 or 4 movies on a theme and folks would come over and watch them and chat about them. I had some centered around a particular actor, but more often, it was a theme like “The Destruction of the Nuclear Family” featuring films with unusual family structures and which addressed the nature of what makes a family, or “The trick is, you have to find the ones without the hoedowns” (hat-tip to Sports Night from which I stole that title) which featured unusual musicals.

I come up with more all the time, though I don’t always have the werewithal to put them on. It takes energy to convince people to show up to your house for 7 solid hours of movies, after all.

Anyway, here are some of the ones I’ve come up with recently:

The “WHAM! Out of nowhere” mini film festival: featuring action films that prominently feature the music of George Michael.
Potential movies include:
– Deadpool
– Keanu
– Atomic Blonde

The “Getting there is delicious” film festival: featuring films where road trips are taken in food trucks.
Potential movies include:
– Chef
– Magic Mike XXL
(This one needs more films, but it’s too good of a theme to let go of.)

The “Skewed Scares” mini fest: movies with horror elements that aren’t horror films:
Potential movies include:
– Warm Bodies
– Fido
– Only Lovers Left Alive

It’s a fun game. Once you come up with a ridiculous thread that connects films, you can start to imagine how they interplay – what themes they have in common, what makes them distinct, the way each of the films in a mini-fest might influence one’s perception of the next, etc.

The fests are the most fun if you can come up with a theme so loose and bizarre it brings together movies that are nothing like one another and then think about how they relate. It’s also just a good excuse to show movies you like, of course. And to make and consume popcorn-based snacks. Not that you need one.